On Monday, I was present as the King County Council voted in favor of approving the King County Detainer Ordinance [2013-0885]. The passing of this legislation is a significant step in addressing an unjust immigration enforcement system.
The Detainer Ordinance will address many of the detrimental effects of ICE’s (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) program, Secure Communities, which allows for the fingerprint data collected in local jails to be checked by a federal immigration database run by ICE. If a match can be found, ICE places a request for a "hold," regardless of whether the person has been convicted of a crime. As a University of Washington report found that ICE detainer requests target people without serious criminal charges or criminal histories and increase the average jail stay for individuals. The current detainer practices increase the cost to local governments and Secure Communities has been found to erode trust between communities and local law enforcement, lead to racial profiling, increase the length of jail stays, and does not target those who have actually been convicted of a serious crime.
It was exciting to be present in the King County Courthouse and watch on from the balcony seating as King County Councilmembers finished their final deliberations on this measure. In a packed courtroom, the Detainer Ordinance was passed with a 5-4 vote. The ordinance had been in the works for the past 20 months, with over 32 community groups advocating for its passage including groups such as One America, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Casa Latina, and El Centro de la Raza.
As an intern with the Church Council, I attended several Washington New Sanctuary Movement and Washington Immigration Roundtable meetings where I received updates on where the ordinance stood. Just a month ago there was great concern that the ordinance was short 1 vote from passing so community groups went to town to put pressure on one councilmember who was refusing to come out in support of the ordinance, despite previous pledges to support immigrants and their families. Within the capacity of the Church Council I drafted an Action Alert and sent it out to over 1,100 of our members, inviting them to contact their King County Councilmembers and urge them to vote yes on the ordinance. I enjoyed being able to connect people in the faith community with an opportunity for advocacy for a measure that will have a significant positive impact in our region.
As federal comprehensive immigration reform is put on hold by politicians, it is encouraging to see that counties and community groups are continuing to press ahead to find local solutions that will separate fewer families, begin to restore trust in our communities and make them safe for the many people who call our neighborhoods home.